The Hot springs of Yellowstone National Park
The Yellowstone national park area is one of the largest contiguous forest areas of the world. While the wildlife alone is mesmerizing the land also holds another unspoken beauty – the hotsprings. The land is an active volcanic region with the entire area being described as a super volcano. Though you will not find any volcanic blasts when you visit , the area features all the geothermal features like hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.
While we decided to visit Yellowstone national park, the geothermal features were never on our agenda. Our aim was only the grizzlies ! All we wanted to do , was to find a grizzly bear and if possible a wolf pack. While we found the former the wolf pack remain elusive till this date. After reaching Yellowstone national park we quickly setup camp and as usual went searching for everything wild and we found beautiful flowers and white tailed deer freely roaming around. On the second day, we were driving to reach another spot inside the park. Yellowstone national park and the adjoining protected areas together add up to around 30000 sq km and there is no way someone can cover it on foot within a week. To put that in perspective Kerala is 38000 sq km. So for us it was always race against time! So while driving quickly from one location to another, we suddenly came across a large patch of land which was completely white in color.
We had to stop ! It was surreal , we have never encountered anything like this in our past. It was as if the entire area was wiped clean and the smell was horrible. Vinod told me it was sulfur fumes and we had to be little careful as it can cause suffocation and irritation. We went in to have a closer look and the place was completely alien. The vegetation in the area had died off indicating very hostile living conditions. The dead trees were charred black indicating death by fire.
Before visiting any place we tend to find and read most of the information available just so that it will give us a better appreciation of the place. We did the same before visiting the Yellowstone national park too and we did find information but we were kind of biased towards other wildlife. But now that we stood there in front of it all of the bias was gone. The place had a beauty that was beyond words. One cannot walk or even approach it closely because of the hot water coming out of it. There were barriers erected to keep people out of such locations.
The boiling water coming from below quickly cools down when it reaches the surface and starts to support life. The rich orange color is because of the carotenoids containing bacteria such as Synechococcus bacteria and Chloroflexus bacteria. The different bacteria stick to different temperature zones and the orange color pertains to 65°C.
The colors are thus defined by the presence or absence of bacteria and the different temperatures of the water. The Yellow color is provided by Synechococcus. As the temperature gets lower as we go away from the vent , there is a greater diversity of microbes which can survive there. This diversity causes a brown color along the outer rim of the vent.
As we roamed around we had a thought. All the images that we were getting were from the eye level and we wanted to get a birds eye view. We looked around and a small hill was overlooking the place. We took the vehicle to the base of the hill through a dirt road and parked it. Since it was the land of the grizzlies we were on high alert. Though we wanted to see a grizzly, we were not sure what to do if we had a close encounter with it. We hoped to quickly ascend the place and take a picture and run. As we climbed, the real magnificence of the place came into light.
The huge crater with steaming water and the bright blue skies was an awesome sight to watch. We ended up taking our own time and sat for some time here. We decided to look for other geological features of the park as well. During our research before the trip, we had come across the fact that geothermal features are of three types – Hotsprings , Mud pots, and Fumaroles. Now that we had found the hot spring , it was time of the other two. With the help of the Yellowstone map we had located the next geothermal feature and found the Mud pot.
As the name suggests the soil was bubbling and spewing out hot soil. We later found that mud pots happen because of limited water and that the acid and micro organisms found inside it breakdown rocks into clay. The pink color is because of the iron compounds that are present in the mud. Having found the mudpot, the Fumarole was the only feature left but it was already late in the evening and we had to rush to our camping site. Late at night we decided the next possible location and we were up at the first light and headed to the spot.
All the while we did not lose track of wildlife or wildflowers. We saw Grizzlies, coyote, black bears , bison etc but I will cover those stories later. So it was action packed to the minute. I had one must see flower for the trip and I know that it was found in acidic soil. Acidic soil is the primary soil type around these areas and so I was searching for that as well.
We had to take a detour to reach this place and in the distance was shades of pink but only after closer look did I get goosebumps.
The elephant head flower / Pedicularis groenlandica is a flower like no other. This unusual and distinctive purplish flower resembles the head of an elephant. The scientific name groenlandica,means of Greenland, where it was first discovered. I was all heads over heels. Add to the find was a bog orchid nearby and Wyoming paintbrush. Now having found these beauties honestly I did not bother about the Fumarole but Vinod wanted to find the last one too. We carried on in search of the last geological feature and after 30 minutes there it was.
Since it was a tall feature it was visible from a distance. Technically speaking it is an opening in the planet crust through which the gases like carbon-di-oxide and sulfur-di-oxide escape. In our case there was no active emission of gases but we were happy to find it and ended our search.
The entire experience was kind of different, as this was the first time we had searched for something geological. We hoped that one day we could climb an actual active volcano but as of now a sense of satisfaction slowly crept into our heads.